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Another trip through my memories, misremembering a song: back in 1988, before I was aware of music, or much of anything else that wasn't LEGO or Marvel comic books, in the back of my mom's Celica, listening to whatever came across the radio. Including a song that I only heard snippets of before she switched away: a song with the message "every single woman has the devil inside". And around the same time, at the home of someone with MTV, then still a rare and slightly unnerving thing, getting to watch the video with women slinking around in 1980s MTV costumes. I remembered this song only vaguely, a product of an 80s that I was present for but not involved in.

Back in objective time, the song was by Australian rock group INXS, a band that might be called new wave or might just be called pop. And the lyric was not the misogynistic "Every single woman has the devil inside" but the more general "Every single one of us has the devil inside". INXS was an Australian band who had been performing for a dozen years at that time, and reached the zenith of their success with the album Kick, released in late 1987. The single "Devil Inside" went to number two on the charts for two weeks, behind Get Out of my Dreams, Get Into my Car by Billy Ocean, and Where Do Broken Hearts Go by Whitney Houston. While "Devil Inside" did get a lot of radio play, it wasn't quite as exposed to other radio songs of 1988--- such as Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley or Don't Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin. I find two related issues with the song.

First is the difference between substance and style. As someone who came of age in the age of grunge, I grew up thinking of all 80s music as being vacuous dance pop. What to make of a song like this? The lyrics are dark and edgy, perhaps with a philosophical message: everyone is prone to corruption. But the song is presented in a typical radio-friendly pop format, and the music video is pure 80s MTV: sexy women in feathered hair and tight dresses, the singer, Michael Hutchence, showing off his bold good looks, a limousine, a kid skateboarding...I can't tell, from the video, whether the imagery is meant to reflect the song, or is just an assortment of generally sexy and provocative 1980s MTV imagery? It might be my bias, but my own reading is that this song is style over substance.

Which brings us to the second point: why is a song that seems to be such a slick radio production include a title that references, even philosophically, demonic possession? In a decade where there had been manufactured Satanic Panics over things like Dungeons and Dragons, and where the music industry had to seriously refute conspiracy theories about back masking and subliminal messages, why would pop musicians go out and just put the word "Devil" in a song? When the Beach Boys released "God Only Knows What I Would Be Without You", decades earlier, it was a break from tradition to have "God" in the title of a pop song. So why talk about the "Devil" in a pop song? I think an answer to this is that INXS was clearly not the type of dark metal band that was frightening Tipper Gore in the 1980s: they were a pop band, although a bit harder than most of the fare of 1988. I think that making a song like this, where Michael Hutchence can look a little Byronic, (as Byronic is interpreted by an Australian pub rock band), gave them just the edge to differentiate them from other pop stars of 1988 (who also included Michael Jackson, Def Leppard and Phil Collins), while still remaining pop in sound and appearance. While I don't think it was anything so deliberate, this song seems to be almost perfectly balanced between "how to be a little shocking" and "how to still get played on the radio". It succeeded in that, as evidenced by managing to reach the top of pop charts.

So INXS deserves credit for managing to make a pop song that got people's attention without being censored. They also deserve credit for managing to creep out my nine year old self with the idea of the devil being inside of me. However, this type of balancing act, and the very image of the cooly Byronic rock star, would become outdated, even corny, only two or three years later.